16 Surprising Facts About Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451

CCAC North Library, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
CCAC North Library, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

For more than 60 years, Ray Bradbury's science fiction classic Fahrenheit 451 has sparked imagination, debate, and rebellion. The dystopian story of a man who burns books to prevent the dissemination of ideas—and then comes to realize the error of his choices—criticized censorship at the height of the Cold War. The novel remains full of surprises, contradictions, and misconceptions.

1. ADOLF HITLER WAS THE BOOK'S DARK INSPIRATION.

Fahrenheit 451 centers on Guy Montag, a fireman tormented by his job: Instead of putting out fires, he is expected to burn books to keep them out of the hands of the public. In an interview with the National Endowment for the Arts, Bradbury explained how he came up with this concept:

"Well, Hitler, of course. When I was 15, he burned the books in the streets of Berlin. Then along the way I learned about the libraries in Alexandria burning 5000 years ago. That grieved my soul. Since I'm self-educated, that means my educators—the libraries—are in danger. And if it could happen in Alexandria, if it could happen in Berlin, maybe it could happen somewhere up ahead, and my heroes would be killed."

2. THE NOVEL'S TITLE IS MISLEADING.

A popular tagline for the book is "the temperature at which book-paper catches fire, and burns." But 451°F actually refers the auto-ignition point of paper, meaning the temperature at which paper will burn if not exposed to an external flame, like that from Montag's flamethrower. Books can, however, ignite at temperatures between the 440s and 480s, depending the density and type of paper.

3. THE NOVEL WAS ADAPTED FROM BRADBURY'S SHORT STORY "THE FIREMAN."

In 1950, Bradbury published his first book, a collection of short stories called The Martian Chronicles. The following year, he wrote "The Fireman," which was published in Galaxy magazine in 1951. From there, Bradbury would expand the tale to create Fahrenheit 451.

4. BRADBURY DID NOT WRITE FAHRENHEIT 451 IN NINE DAYS.

Author Ray Bradbury signs his new book Bradbury: An Illustrated Life at Barnes & Noble
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

A popular apocryphal story is that Bradbury hammered out Fahrenheit 451 in just over a week. That story is wrong: It was the 25,000-word "The Fireman" that he wrote in that time period. The author would later refer to the short story as "the first version" of the eventual novel. But over the years, he would often speak about "The Fireman" and Fahrenheit 451 interchangeably, which has caused some confusion.

5. HE WROTE HIS FIRST VERSION ON A RENTED TYPEWRITER IN A LIBRARY BASEMENT.

Bradbury and wife Marguerite McClure had two children in 1950 and 1951, and he was in need of a quiet place to write but had no money for renting an office. In a 2005 interview, Bradbury said:

"I was wandering around the UCLA library and discovered there was a typing room where you could rent a typewriter for 10 cents a half-hour. So I went and got a bag of dimes. The novel began that day, and nine days later it was finished. But my God, what a place to write that book! I ran up and down stairs and grabbed books off the shelf to find any kind of quote and ran back down and put it in the novel. The book wrote itself in nine days, because the library told me to do it."

6. HE SPENT $9.80 ON TYPEWRITER RENTAL.

Bradbury's nine days in the library cost him, by his own estimate, just under $10. That means he spent about 49 hours writing "The Fireman."

7. THE BOOK IS VIEWED AS A CRITICISM OF McCARTHYISM.

Fahrenheit 451 was published on October 19, 1953 in the midst of the Second Red Scare, an era from the late 1940s to the end of the 1950s characterized by political and cultural paranoia. Many Americans feared Communist infiltration of their values and communities. Because of the context of its publication, some critics have interpreted Montag's story as a challenge to the censorship and conformity that U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt sparked.

8. BRADBURY WAS REALLY WRITING ABOUT THE DANGERS OF TELEVISION.

Ray Bradbury
Evening Standard/Getty Images

Bradbury feared TV would be the death of reading—and perhaps extinguish a crucial part of our collective humanity. "Television gives you the dates of Napoleon," Bradbury lamented, "but not who he was." He also said TV is "mostly trash."

9. BRADBURY'S BIAS TOWARD READING DIDN'T KEEP HIM AWAY FROM TV.

Not only has the prolific author of more than 600 works allowed his short stories and novels to be adapted for TV, but also he's written teleplays for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, and his own anthology series The Ray Bradbury Theater, which ran for six seasons between 1985 and 1992. For his efforts, Bradbury won a string of honors, including the CableAce award for best dramatic series (The Ray Bradbury Theater), an Emmy for The Halloween Tree, and a lifetime achievement honor from the Bram Stoker Awards.

10. FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT'S MOVIE ADAPTATION MADE A BIG CHANGE TO THE STORY.

Clarisse, the teenage girl who befriends Montag, is unceremoniously killed in a hit-and-run accident in the novel. In the movie, she survives. Far from being put off by this alteration, Bradbury liked it. When he adapted the novel into a stage show, he took a cue from the movie and let Clarisse live.

11. FAHRENHEIT 451 HAS BEEN ADAPTED FOR OTHER MEDIA.

Aside from Truffaut's film and Bradbury's play, the novel has also been reconceived as a BBC radio drama, a video game, a graphic novel, and a 2018 movie starring Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon.

12. BRADBURY CONSIDERED FAHRENHEIT 451 HIS ONLY WORK OF SCIENCE FICTION.

Though he is regarded as a master of the science fiction genre, Bradbury viewed the rest of his work as fantasy. He once explained, "I don't write science fiction. I've only done one science fiction book and that's Fahrenheit 451, based on reality. Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it's fantasy. It couldn't happen, you see?"

13. FAHRENHEIT 451 IMAGINED EARBUDS.

When the novel came out, headphones were large and cumbersome things. But Bradbury imagined "the little Seashells, the thimble radios," which rested in the ear canal, and played music to Montag's sleeping wife. These "seashells" went from science fiction to science fact in 2001, when Apple designer Jonathan Ive debuted earbuds.

Still, "predicting" wasn't something Bradbury was interested in. "I've tried not to predict, but to protect and to prevent," he said of Fahrenheit 451. "If I can convince people to stop doing what they're doing and go to the library and be sensible, without pontificating and without being self-conscious, that's fine. I can teach people to really know they're alive."

14. FOR YEARS, BRADBURY REFUSED TO LET FARHRENHEIT 451 BE PUBLISHED AS AN E-BOOK.

Fahrenheit 451 e-book on the Kindle
Richard Unten, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

As the novel makes clear, Bradbury treasured the printed word. When asked in 2009 if he'd allow an e-book version of Fahrenheit 451, the author responded to the would-be publishers, "To hell with you and to hell with the internet. It's distracting. It's meaningless; it's not real. It's in the air somewhere."

He went on to declare e-books "smell like burned fuel." But in 2011, 91-year-old Bradbury gave in when Simon & Schuster offered him a seven-figure publishing deal, in which the rights to publish an e-book version were integral. However, Bradbury did win an important concession: Simon & Schuster agreed to make the e-book available for free downloads at public libraries.

15. BRADBURY KNEW WHAT HE WOULD DO IF HE LIVED IN FAHRENHEIT 451'S DYSTOPIA.

In the book, there is an underground band of rebels who attempt to preserve the written word by memorizing great works of literature. Asked which book he'd commit to memory in such a circumstance, Bradbury answered, "It would be A Christmas Carol. I think that book has influenced my life more than almost any other book, because it's a book about life, it's a book about death. It's a book about triumph."

16. FAHRENHEIT 451 IS BRADBURY'S MOST POPULAR NOVEL.

It's sold more than 10 million copies, earned critical acclaim, and is considered one of the major novels of the 20th century. Fahrenheit 451 has won several awards, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, a Prometheus "Hall of Fame" Award, and a Hugo Award. And Bradbury earned a Grammy nomination in the spoken word category for the 1976 audiobook, which he performed himself.

'Turdsworth': Lord Byron’s Not-So-Affectionate Nickname for William Wordsworth

GeorgiosArt/iStock via Getty Images
GeorgiosArt/iStock via Getty Images

For those of you who thought William Wordsworth was a not-so-subtle pseudonym meant to further the literary brand of a certain 19th-century poet, think again: William Wordsworth’s real name was actually William Wordsworth.

The fitting, alliterative moniker makes it hard to forget that Wordsworth was a wordsmith, but it also made him an easy target for mockery at the hands of other Romantic era writers.

Some of it was the type of clever wordplay you might expect from England’s elite poets. In an essay for the London Review of Books, Michael Wood highlights the time that Samuel Taylor Coleridge sent his poem “The Nightingale” to Wordsworth, writing, “And like an honest bard, dear Wordsworth/You’ll tell me what you think, my Bird’s worth.”

While Coleridge’s witty rhyme poked fun at Wordsworth in a playful way, not all of his contemporaries were quite so kind. As Literary Hub points out, Lord Byron referred to Wordsworth as “Turdsworth.”

Byron’s jab sounds like something you’d hear at an elementary-school kickball game, but, then again, the eccentric poet was never one to adhere to anybody’s expectations—during college, for example, he often walked his pet bear around the grounds.

As for the word turd itself, it’s been around much longer than you might have realized. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it derives from the Old English word tord, meaning “piece of excrement,” and it’s been used as a personal insult ever since the 15th century.

If fecal-themed nicknames aren’t really your thing, here are 42 other Old English insults that you can fling with abandon.

[h/t Literary Hub]

The New York Public Library’s 10 Most Checked-Out Books of All Time

Popartic/iStock via Getty Images
Popartic/iStock via Getty Images

To celebrate the 125th anniversary of the New York Public Library’s opening in 1895, a team of library experts decided it was only fitting to highlight the perennially popular books that have contributed to its success.

They pulled the circulation stats on all print and digital formats of books, analyzed factors like length of time in print and presence in the library catalog, and came up with a list of the library’s 10 most checked-out books of all time.

Topping the list was Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day, the charmingly illustrated, timeless tale of a young boy discovering the wintry wonders of a snow day. It’s been in circulation since its publication in 1962, and it’s far from the only children’s book on the list—in fact, six of the top 10 most borrowed books are meant for a young audience, including Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, and Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. As the library explains, this is partly because shorter books have quicker turnover rates, and partly because certain children’s classics appeal to a wide range of readers.

And, of course, it would hardly be a “top books” list if it didn’t include at least one of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came in ninth place, with 231,022 checkouts. One children’s book, however, is conspicuously missing: Margaret Wise Brown’s peaceful bedtime story Goodnight Moon, published in 1947 and seemingly read by just about everyone. According to the NYPL, Anne Carroll Moore, an important children’s librarian at the time of the book's publication, despised the story, so the library didn’t add it to the catalog until 1972. (They gave it an “honorable mention” designation on this list.)

Books can also rack up high circulation numbers if they’re often used in school curriculums, like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, or cover themes that appear (and reappear) in current events—which might explain why George Orwell’s 1984 has been checked out a staggering 441,770 times.

See the rest of the top 10 below, and find out which books made the NYPL’s 2019 most checked-out list here.

  1. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats // 485,583
  1. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss // 469,650
  1. 1984 by George Orwell // 441,770
  1. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak // 436,016
  1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee // 422,912
  1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White // 337,948
  1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury // 316,404
  1. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie // 284,524
  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling // 231,022
  2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle // 189,550

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